This is Mr. Perfect. Well, he’s not quite perfect. His eyes should really be bright red. Other than that, I think he’s rather attractive. He is the largest of our discus, has a decent shape and he doesn’t have as much peppering as the other Pigeon Bloods. He’s the tank boss and bullies everyone else away from food.
I’ve always like sticks. I think every young boy does. You’re walking in a park one day and you look down and see a cool looking branch. You break off the irregular bits, swing it around a few times and suddenly you have a light saber, or a walking stick or just something long and pokey. You carry it around for an hour or so until you lean on it too hard or whack it against something with too much force and your sword becomes a dagger. And then a blackjack. And then a pencil. Eventually, you just toss it aside.
On a few occasions, I tried to smuggle a particularly well shaped stick into my house. Unfortunately, my grandmother was not nearly as much a fan of random stuff from the outside world coming into her nice inside world, so that didn’t fly. No sticks in the house!
When Sarah and I setup our tank, we did so with random driftwood that was available at the local fish store. You know the type, oddly shaped burls that someone probably found on a beach somewhere, which we all assume has been treated or somehow made aquarium safe. They don’t really resemble tree parts so much as abstract expressionist sculptures. I thought they looked pretty cool. The only real downside was that food and detritus would constantly get stuck below them and it was hard to vacuum it out.
At that point, we didn’t know much about the natural discus habitat and we hadn’t seen the biotype tanks, which try to echo that environment. In those tanks, more natural looking branches are used to recreate the kind of black water areas where discus live around fallen trees and roots. As we grew to love those natural looking tanks, we considered buying some of the expensive Manzanita branches that are used in those tanks, but we thought it best to let the tank be as it was for a while before making any drastic changes.
Then, about two weeks ago I started thinking. Why couldn’t we just get some of our own branches? So we did. One morning, while Sarah was on vacation from work, we made our way to the south west end of Prospect Park, below Prospect Park Lake. Our plan was to find actual branches that had fallen onto the ice. How much more realistic can you get?
After slowly walking around the edge of the water, step by step through the snow and across the icy ground, we found a bunch of branches that had fallen in one area away from the water. They looked perfect, so we grabbed a few and…well, then we realized that we had nothing to cut the branches with. What an oversight!
We called the only hardware store that was within walking distance, but when we called them they claimed that they didn’t carry saws. We decided that their problem was probably less an inventory shortage and more of a language deficiency, so we trudged the 1/2 mile to the store hoping that they would have something appropriate. When we got there, they sold us a cheap hand saw that was perfect for our purposes.
I will admit to being a little nervous about woodworking in the middle of the park. Large black man in the park with a saw? Think about it. Surprisingly no one bothered us, or even gave us a second look. We hopped back on the G train and we were on our way.
Once we got the pieces home, we sawed off any dangerous points and soaked the wood in our tub. We also washed the wood in a bleach/water solution, steamed it with our steam cleaner and let it sit in the tub water for a few days. We were concerned that it might take weeks or even a month for the wood to get water logged enough to sink, but it wound up taking only a couple of days.
Then we stuck it in the tank!
I really like how the new layout looks, the tank is much easier to clean now and best of all the fish seem to enjoy darting under, through and around the two branches we used. It does look a little empty, but we’re going to add more plants over time and things should fill out nicely.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “isn’t it risky putting random wood in your tank? Couldn’t that kill the fish with pesticides or some kind of weird bug?” Well, yes, you’re right. It was a risky choice, but so far so good.
I am a know-it-all in the fine tradition of Cliff Clavin. The fact that Sarah doesn’t kill me in my sleep is really a testament to fine parenting and her Quaker heritage. My latest bout of blowharditis was in relation to the substrate in our tank.
As I previously mentioned, we started out with a substrate made of a little bit of natural sand (light tan) and a whole lot of fluorite (black). We later learned that this was a bad idea for discus fish. Sarah suggested that we remove all of the existing substrate and replace it with a 100% sand base. I was very hesitant to upset the tank and disturb the helpful bacteria which live in the gravel. I thought it best to merely sprinkle a layer of the sand above the existing fluorite. We’d get all of the benefits of the lighter color without having to disturb the tank. Sarah was skeptical, but I was adamant and she went along with the sprinkling plan.
Well, it became clear in a day or two that my plan wasn’t going to work. As I really should have expected and I’m sure Sarah did expect, the black fluorite found it’s way back on top of the sand within minutes. It was only a matter of time before we wound up with a peppered color instead of the light tan we were hoping for. But I remained confident and/or defensively unwilling to admit my mistake.
A day or so after we sprinkled the new sand on our substrate, we purchased a worm feeder cone. The fish love freeze dried Australian black worms, but the discus are messy eaters and the worms are easily carried away by the current. We often wound up with worms all over the tank after a feeding. The cone allows the fish to eat without all of the worms in the meal having a chance to float away.
The cone came with a suction cup for attaching to the aquarium glass, but it was difficult to move it. I decided to just leave the cup sitting upside down in the sand. Sarah was concerned that it might tip over, but I was sure it wasn’t. Sarah stepped out to run and errand and left me to finish the feeding. Almost as soon as she walked out of the door, the cone was knocked over just as she had expected. Rather than re-consider my plan, I doubled down and dug the cone into the sand. Problem solved! I felt pretty good about my clever handiwork and allowed myself a smug grin.
Then I removed the cone and realized that I’d created a huge black area. “No big deal”, I thought to myself. “I’ll just move some sand over to cover it.” Let’s call this the cover-up. Unfortunately, my moving sand only served to create more and more black or peppered areas. At this point, I should have stopped and waited for Sarah to return. We could have calmly discussed our next steps and set an appropriate time to redo the entire substrate if necessary. That’s what I should have done.
Instead, I decided to completely remove the substrate in the affected area and quickly add new sand. This was the cover-up of the cover-up. If I worked efficiently, I figured that I could have everything fixed before Sarah got back and I’d never have to hear an “I told you so”. I’m sure you can get where this is headed. The affected area kept expanding the more I tried to fix it and eventually I heard Sarah opening the door.
She walked in to see me with both arms in the tank, the water completely clouded with sand and dust and our poor fish were huddling at the bottom of the tank. I was forced to admit my mistake and Sarah was forced by the fear of criminal punishment not to kill me.
In the end, everything worked out. We replaced the entire front area of the tank with 100% sand substrate. We’ll continue to change additional areas where our plants haven’t already rooted in the future. Two days of water changes got the water clear again and made all of our inhabitants happy.
If you’re going to get discus, definitely go with sand as your substrate. It makes it so much easier to locate uneaten food or waste.
If you’ve made a mistake in your setup, don’t be so married to it that you’re unwilling to go back and fix things. Sometimes small tweaks and hacks work, but often times you wind up having to do the full fix in the long term anyway.
Most of all, once you’re doing a cover-up of a cover-up, it’s probably time to fess up.
Last Friday, Sarah and I received 2 Brilliant Turquoise discus and 16 cardinal tetras from Discus Hans. The fish arrived in the morning via fedex and were shipped in a styrofoam boxed. They are really beautiful, confident eaters as soon as we let them out of the bag and best of all they have calmed down the overall aggression level in the tank.
Obviously, part of the aggression problem was just the fact that we only had four discus in the tank. It’s recommended that they be kept in groups of atleast six, which makes sense when you realize that discus live in groups of up to 1,000 members in the wild.
As you can see, we also decided to add some lighter colored sand above our flourite subtrate. Discus will actually darken if living above a dark substrate. Pigeon based strains of discus also develop more peppering over a dark surface. We didn’t know that when we setup our tank, unfortunately. We didn’t want to remove our existing substrate, so we just sprinkled a thin layer of sand over the black flourite.
The best way to raise juvenile discus is in what’s called a bare bottom or BB tank. That is, a tank with no substrate and only potted plants or artificial plants. Discus are messy eaters, they need to eat often and they are also very sensitive to water conditions. Gravel or other substrate makes it hard to remove uneaten food and waste. People who are focused on growing their fish as large as possible stick to BB tanks.
We didn’t like the look of the BB tanks and decided to go for a lightly planted tank. We did that despite the fact that we knew that keeping the plants healthy and the gravel clean would mean a lot more work and a lot more risk. We just liked the more natural look and to be honest we looked forward to watching the plants grow along with the fish in our own little low budget version of a biotope.
Discus are actually found in the Amazon River. There natural environment is black water around submerged decaying trees. To that end, some of the people who have the most beautiful tanks feature large sections of driftwood as the centerpiece of their layouts. We weren’t as knowledgeable when we designed our original layout and we wound up buying random pieces of driftwood at Pacific Aquarium. We’ll probably purchase some manzanita at some point.
We also wanted to have a very lightly planted tank, so we started out with only a few microswords (which look like grass), two amazon swords (the plants with larger leaves towards the foreground) and two watersprites (the taller plants towards the left and right edges of the tank). We’ later added an anubias plants attached to our largest piece of driftwood.
Unfortunately, we wound up having the quickly growing watersprite in front of the less aggressive anubias. It was clear that our layout was going to lead to the anubias being completely blocked from sight. We also wanted to open the tank up a bit in the front.
Last Saturday the 25th, Sarah went ahead and re-configured the layout so that the driftwood with our largest anubias is now in the center back of the tank. We also added two small anubias plants to the driftwood on the right of the tank and a few more bunches of the microsword grass. I think the new layout looks much better.
This is Lloyd, one of our first four discus:
He’s a juvenile red maze pigeon blood discus. His hobbies are eating, pooping and bullying. One of his eyes is deformed, but we love him anyway.
Unfortunately, he started to have long stringy poop last week. You can see it if you look closely at the picture. He was still active and eating, but we were concerned because we had read that stringy poop is one of the big signs of poor health in discus. We immediately posted a thread on the Simply Discus message boards.
We didn’t get an immediate response and being slightly panicked we decided that the problem was intestinal flagellates and we had to treat the problem now now now! The SD common treatments guide suggested the antibiotic Metronidazole as the appropriate treatment so we headed out to buy it. Most proficient fish keepers will have a hospital tank setup which allows them to isolate and treat sick fish. Unfortunately, we don’t really have the space for another tank in our small apartment. At any rate, the Metro treatment was supposed to be safe for the whole tank. The main problem would be the additional expense of treating our large tank rather than a smaller setup. We weren’t concerned.
The metro that we purchased came in a 5 gram package. The SD common treatments guide recommended dosing at at least 400 milligrams for each ten gallons of water for three to five days. Our tank is 72 gallons. By my calculations we would need two of the packages.
72 gallons / 10 gallons ~= 7
7 * 400 milligrams = 2800 milligrams
3 days * 2800 milligrams = 8400 milligrams.
8400 milligrams = 8.4 grams.
Something must have been wrong in my thinking, though, because our first package was completely used up on the first day. Even worse, the store that had sold us the medicine had only had the two packages that I bought. All of the other local stores either didn’t carry the medicine or were our of stock for a few days. In the end, we decided to just do 1/2 of the remaining package each of the last two days of the treatment.
At that point, we actually got a reply to our thread. In the experienced poster’s opinion, our problem wasn’t intestinal flagellates at all, but worms. It seems like worms are a common problem with discus fish and many keepers recommend regularly scheduled de-worming to prevent outbreaks. He recommended Angel Plus Medicated Flake Food which we have now ordered.
In hindsight, it makes more sense that our problem would be worms. Another of our fish, Jack had been a bit under the weather before LLoyd showed any symptoms. I had coincidentally soaked some of the pellets I was trying to introduce to the fish in garlic because I had read that it strengthened their appetite and encouraged them to eat new food. Jack suddenly sprung back to life! Further reading suggests that garlic is a natural de-wormer, which is probably why it helped Jack to feel better.
In the meantime, LLoyd seems to be doing well and he’s still his tyrannical self. Hopefully, he’ll be ok until the medicated flake food arrives. Our lesson from all of this is that medicine should mostly be avoided and that knee jerk reactions aren’t very helpful. It can be nerve wracking to see that your beloved fish is showing signs of illness and medicines offer a quick fix. Slow thoughtful treatment is the right way to go. It’s also much cheaper!
After a week of having the tank setup with no flora or fauna, we went to Pacific Aquarium in the city to buy plants and fish. The person who initially helped us wasn’t working on the day we returned. That original salesman had approved of our discus and tetras in a lightly planted tank plan. He even suggested the correct lighting and additives that would support the plants we wanted.
The gentleman who helped us on the day we went to buy the fish told us that it wasn’t possible to keep discus and tetras in one tank. He recommended that if we wanted a planted tank we could only keep tetras. If we wanted something larger, he suggested tinfoil barbs.
We had done our research and we had even seen pictures of tanks with discus and tetras living happily side by side. Despite this, we let ourselves be intimidated by the supposed expert and we walked out of the shop with the tinfoils. We did buy plants even though he assured us that the tinfoils would strip them in a few days.
After a day or so of keeping the tinfoils it was clear that they were not what we wanted. It was fun to watch them school and they ate like piranhas, but it just didn’t match the shared vision we had had in our heads. We wanted a planted discus tank! Luckily, Sarah was woman enough to not give up on our original vision. She contacted the first sales person we had dealt with who re-affirmed that our original plan had merit. We returned the tinfoils and bought three discus fish as well as eleven glowlight tetras.
Unfortunately, these new discus fish never seemed to acclimate. They were very shy and didn’t really eat. We contacted an online breeder called Discus Madness who had an informative site and he informed us that our fish were both stunted and suffering from Hexamita infestation. We once again made the difficult choice to bag up our tank inhabitants and return them to Pacific Aquarium. The manager of the store expressed his belief that there was nothing wrong with the fish, but to his credit he accepted the returns without any problems. We were very happy with his customer service and continue to buy supplies from the store.
A few days later I took the train out to Glen Ridge, New Jersey and purchased four Red Maze Pigeon discus juveniles. The little suckers were packed into a styrofoam cooler and I made my way home via New Jersey transit. These new fish were much more active and healthy looking than the ones we had purchased originally. They also ate from our hands the first day that they were added to their new homes.
Sadly, additional feedback from folks on the Simply Discus site let us know that these new fish were also stunted. Our own observations had already made it clear that one of the guys (we call him Jack) was heavily peppered, which is a sign of bad genetics and stress. Another of the new guys, named LLoyd, has a deformed eye. We were disappointed to find out that we’d been sold what can only be called inferior stock, but we’re still very fond of our little stunted guys. We look forward to many years of taking care of them.
Next up, we’ll be looking to purchase four more discus from another strain. And another breeder! This time we’ll definitely use one of the Simply Discus sponsors.
I’ve always enjoyed keeping fish tanks. Mainly goldfish, but I’ve also had other tropical varieties. Unfortunately, a series of die offs soured me on the hobby about ten years ago. Well, about a month ago Sara and I decided on a whim to get a new tank. Our friend Dave sent us a link to a picture of Discus fish and we fell in love instantly. Only later did we read the plethora of articles talking about how the Discus was, in addition to being the “king of aquariums”, one of the most difficult species of fish to care for.
Well, tons of money and hours spent reading Simply Discus later and our new project is up and running. Here’s one of our first pictures of the tank from September 15th. Expect frequent updates!